The Bible teaches the importance and appropriateness of churches providing financial support to Christian ministers who admirably serve their congregations. In 1 Timothy 5:18, the apostle Paul cites two passages to back up his claim that church bodies must honor and care for hard-working pastors to prevent them from becoming overworked and underpaid. The first is “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain” (NIV). The second is “The laborer is worthy of his hire” (ASV 1901).
In the first instance, Paul cites Deuteronomy 25:4. He reasons that, if God in His law expressed concern for hard-working animals to be fed and cared for, church members ought to show proper consideration for their pastors, teachers, and spiritual leaders, supplying them with a decent wage. It’s good to feed the cow; it’s better to feed your pastor. Paul’s second reference, “The laborer is worthy of his hire” (ASV) or “The laborer deserves his wages” (ESV), is most likely a recitation of Christ’s words: “For the laborer deserves his wages” (Luke 10:7, ESV). Jesus said this to His disciples when He sent them ahead of Him as “laborers into his harvest” (Luke 10:2, ESV), encouraging them to accept hospitality and food from people who would receive them (Luke 10:7–8). Significantly, 1 Timothy 5:18 calls the Gospel of Luke “Scripture.”
In 1 Timothy 5:17, Paul explains further: “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.” A study of the term double honor reveals that it refers to both respect and remuneration. The phrase emphasizes generosity. Paul expects the church to provide reasonable pay for a job well done, and failure to do so indicates a shortage of respect and honor for one’s spiritual leaders.
In the Old Testament, the priests and Levites who ministered in worship were supported by the community of believers so that they “could devote themselves to the Law of the LORD” (2 Chronicles 31:4; cf. 1 Corinthians 9:13). Thus, it stands to reason in the New Testament church that those who devote their lives to the work of the gospel should likewise be supported by the congregations they serve.
To the church in Galatia, Paul wrote, “Those who are taught the word of God should provide for their teachers, sharing all good things with them” (Galatians 6:6, NLT). He informed the believers in Corinth, “In the same way, the Lord ordered that those who preach the Good News should be supported by those who benefit from it” (1 Corinthians 9:14, NLT).
It’s true that Paul earned his own living, supporting his ministry work through tentmaking (Acts 18:3; 1 Corinthians 9:3–18; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:8). But Paul explained in detail that his case was an exception for a particular purpose (1 Corinthians 9:4–27).
It’s interesting to note that neither of Paul’s scriptural parallels is particularly complimentary. He first compares Christian ministers to oxen, beasts of burden. Second, he likens them to farmhands. Paul’s illustrations are appropriately chosen, not to demean but to stress that the gospel ministry is hard work. Those who serve well deserve to be honored, appreciated, and paid a fair wage.
Just as it is right for farmers to feed their livestock and employers to pay laborers worthy of their hire, it is proper and essential for the local church to provide adequate financial support to its dedicated Christian ministers.